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THE TIMES’ RANKINGS

MARK HEISLER’S NBA RANKINGS AND COMMENTS:

Michael Jordan comes off the bench for limited minutes (46 in the first two games) but Jerry Stackhouse and comers Kwame Brown and Jared Jeffries make this an intriguing mix. Shaquille O’Neal isn’t expected back until after this game, which would make the Lakers the underdogs.

*--* Rank Team (rec.) Comment 1 SACRAMENTO (3-0) On one hand, Bibby out five weeks. On other, it doesn’t look as if Kings notice 2 NEW JERSEY (3-0) New starter Jefferson averaging 15. New center Mutombo averaging 3.0 blocks 3 SAN ANTONIO (2-1) Retiring Admiral, who used to hit snooze alarm until New Year’s, averaging 11-11 4 DALLAS (2-0) All Mavericks’ work on defense paid off as they give up 108 to Memphis 5 DETROIT (2-0) East Euro-theme: Last year it was 6-11 Zeljko Rebraca, now 6-10 Mehmet Okur 6 INDIANA (2-1) Young, promising like Clippers -- except Pacers just re-signed Bender and Artest 7 MINNESOTA (2-1) Young, promising like Clippers -- except Timberwolves just re-signed Szczerbiak 8 NEW ORLEANS (2-1) Baron zinged for trying to take over U.S. team in summer; Hornets say it’s OK 9 PHILADELPHIA (2-1) Return of Keith Van Horn: He averages 18 points, nine rebounds in first three 10 SEATTLE (2-0) May have sold soul over summer: Brent Barry gets 50 points in first two games 11 PORTLAND (1-2) Payroll $106 million -- meaning Trail Blazers will pay $50 million in tax 12 WASHINGTON (1-2) H-e-r-e’s Kwame: 20-year-old arrives in a hurry, getting 33-24 in first two 13 PHOENIX (1-2) Good news is Gugliotta is back starting. Bad news is he’s averaging 5.0 points 14 UTAH (1-2) There you go again: Mailman says it’d be neat playing near home in New Orleans 15 HOUSTON (2-1) Owner says Yao story bigger than Jackie Robinson, exhales as Yao debuts with 0 16 TORONTO (1-2) Home at last: Jelani McCoy takes 25 rebounds in first two starts at center 17 ORLANDO (3-1) Huh? Riley says McGrady, Hill better as tandem than Magic and Worthy 18 MILWAUKEE (0-2) Must be Forgotten Bruin Week in NBA: Second-round pick Gadzuric starting 19 ATLANTA (2-1) Big Dog, now Big Hawk, scores 64 in his first two, with 15 rebounds, 15 assists 20 CHICAGO (2-1) The last time they ranked this high, Clinton was president, MJ was a Bull 21 LAKERS (1-2) Shaq’s back soon. Of course, by then they could be five games behind Kings 22 BOSTON (1-2) Not start Celtics hoped for: Blow 13-point lead over Bulls, lose to Wizards by 45 23 CLEVELAND (1-2) Sound (for moment) Tyrone Hill, Ilgauskas make Cavaliers semi-legit 24 CLIPPERS (0-2) Oh, oh: Needed a way better start than this to get their minds off $$$ 25 MIAMI (0-2) Riley, asked how he measures rebuilding teams: “I don’t know. Never had one.” 26 MEMPHIS (0-3) West gives Lowe a chance, but giving up 119, 109, 116 doesn’t look good 27 GOLDEN STATE (1-2) Oops: Dunleavy, third pick in draft, stunned to get one minute in opener 28 NEW YORK (0-3) Before Knicks even open, Chaney, Layden get vote of confidence/kiss of death 29 DENVER (1-2) Can’t afford many more wins like Saturday’s for LeBron James lottery

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*--* GAME OF THE WEEK LAKERS AT WASHINGTON When -- Friday. Time -- 5 PST. TV -- Ch. 9, ESPN

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